BHS junior inspires the nation

Photo: The Boys and Girls Club of Vermont

Photo: The Boys and Girls Club of Vermont

Halle Newman

Every year, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America hold a national contest to honor one of their members as “Youth of the Year”.

As described by a statement from the Boys and Girls Clubs’ website, “The National Youth of the Year is a role model, leader and advocate for the nearly 4 million youth served by Boys & Girls Clubs each year, and all of America’s young people.

This program is designed to inspire a new generation of leaders in our country, one of which happens to be walking the halls of Burlington High School (BHS); junior Senga Felekini has been named as the Youth of the Year for Vermont, and she plans to compete for a regional title later this month in New York City.

“I never knew that I could go this far,” Felekini said. “I only thought that I would win Burlington and I would not go to Montpelier and win Vermont because I thought that [the] other people I was competing against would win because they were fluent [in] English, and they were born here.”

In competing for Youth of the Year, Felekini has been sharing the story of how she came to the United States.

“I talked about how my family [lived] in refugee camps and couldn’t [find] a good life because my parents faced prejudice in [the] Congo and [as] refugees,” Felekini said. “It was hard for my family to get through that, and I talked about how we got reunited with my missing sister.”

Although sharing a traumatic personal story can be difficult, Felekini finds comfort in speaking about her life.

“I like telling my story because it helps me feel relief,” Felekini said. “To relieve the anger of what I have been through… It helps other people to know what I have been through, what has changed me to be this person.”

She also sees the concept of sharing a story as an opportunity to inspire empathy in others.

“I want to know what it is like to be [other people], and I want them to know what it is like to be me.”

This powerful message conveyed in Felekini’s speech that’s won her the state award of Youth of the Year came with help and support from her family, friends, and teachers.

“I couldn’t do it alone,” Felekini said.

Right after Felekini’s name had been called as the Youth of the Year, the joy she felt was shared by her twin sister, Mauwa.

“My sister [said], ‘when she [wins], I win!’”

Felekini anticipates her trip to New York City to be a lot of fun, and looks forward to continuing to share her story with the nation.